While the baby boomers head toward retirement, their kids are beginning to take the reins.  They are commonly referred to as the millennial generation.  We can only hope they will do a better job than have their parents or grandparents.  These millennials have received a good deal of bad press, mostly from old farts like me  They have been called narcissistic, spoiled, inept, lazy, and trophy kids among other things.  They are the first generation to prefer a computer screen to stuffed toys or rattles.  This was brought home to me yesterday when I passed a grocery cart in the store containing a baby in a child seat who was apparently entranced by something he was holding which looked very much like some kind of mini ipad.  With that in mind is it any wonder that digitally deficient old folks like myself rely on kindergarten grandkids for computer lessons?

Educator Marc Prensky in his publication, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, defends the millennials and insists that our misunderstanding of them is the result of our speaking different languages.  He posits that their nearly total immersion in the digital world via computers, video games, digital music, cell phones, video cams etc. has resulted in their “thinking and processing information fundamentally differently from their predecessors”.  They even prefer to communicate digitally.  As a matter of fact, the geeks may be the new heroes of the millenial generation.  Prensky concludes that all of this leads us to feel apart, since these geeky kids do inhabit a different world.

Pensky goes on to quote Dr. Bruce Perry of Baylor College of Medicine who echoes his assessment with the statement, “It is very likely that our students’ brains have physically changed and are different from ours-as a result of how they grew up.”  Although the idea that a whole generation of brains might be changed in both function and structure seems farfetched, recent research concerning the elasticity of the developing brain suggests it not so much of a stretch as it seems.

David Burstein, himself a millennial, in his book “Fast Future” coined the term pragmatic idealism to describe millennial philosophy and insists that millennials in general have “a deep desire to make the world a better place.”  He goes on to say that their idealism is tempered with the realities of what is possible, and consequently, they will be able to bridge the divisiveness that currently prevents solutions to world and domestic problems.

He is an ardent defender of his generation, and insists that they are optimistic about the future as is he.   He points out that soon his millennials will represent one third of the population and mostly represent a consensus on societal, environmental and economic issues.  It is easy to see how when these kids (to me all people under the age of 40 are kids) ascend to positions of power they could conceivably bring about massive changes to the status quo.

In a time in which our electronic gadgets are obsolete by the time we old codgers learn how to use them, these geeky kids stand a better chance of utilizing the best features of a cyber world, and warding off nefarious uses of technologies that seemingly progress at warp speed.  The dangers inherent in artificial intelligence and robotics was the subject of previous blogs, but there is also the problem of cyber warfare which seems to be already underway via Russia’s attempt to undermine our democracy.  A criminal element will always be with us and they have found ways to do much harm with only a keyboard as a weapon.  A digital world will require our best millennial minds to sort out the good and protect us from the bad.

In such a world it is vital that those scheduled to take over be forward thinking if they are to be successful in adapting; however, in doing so they tend to ignore traditions important to previous generations, undoubtedly convinced that history is no longer relevant in their digital wonderland.  Materialism is frowned upon, and new lifestyles are in vogue.  To own a home in the suburbs is no longer the ideal for many.  Those women who choose to marry are more likely to sign up for the Wal-Mart bridal registry, and could care less about inheriting the family silver.  In many areas the antique business is on life support.  In their zeal to move forward, let us hope they will not lose sight of the lessons painfully learned by their ancestors which led to the origin of many of those irrelevant traditions.  Prensky posits that we have been remiss by failing to teach “both legacy and future content in their language”.

There is evidence that Burstein’s positive assessment of these kids is valid.  One example of which I am aware seems to fit his “pragmatic idealism” mold quite well.  It all began when four college students at the Indiana University became interested in beekeeping, and ultimately, concerned about the plight of the vanishing honey bee.  With further study they learned to appreciate the magnitude of the problem.   It is said that nearly 70% of the world’s edible crops depend upon honey bees for pollination, and we are now losing nearly half of all the colonies each year.  The extinction of the species would be catastrophic.  Other animal life could also be affected due to the lack of pollination of plants on which they feed.  The Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that without honey bees it would be impossible to feed the 9.1 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2050.

This group of four college students formed a club to study bees, and noted that although there was ongoing research into the problem, little was known about life inside the hives.  The university annually hosts a contest, Building Entrepreneurs through Science and Technology (BEST), for would-be entrepreneurs with an award of $100,000 to be used as seed money for the students to put their idea into action.  After an application process, the finalists present their business plan to the venture capitalists involved much as in the TV series Shark Tank and our heroes won. Click here to see the press release.

They incorporated in February 2016 under the name “The Bee Corp” and set about to use their grant to purchase some bee hives in order to have a cohort on which to learn, but were not averse to harvesting and merchandising nearly 1,000 pounds of honey the following year (one jar of which I enjoyed).  Those hives had suffered a great deal of neglect prior to their purchase by Bee Corp consequently; there was much sweat equity involved in the production of that honey.  This business success while in the pursuit of their stated mission “to drive innovation on traditional beekeeping practices through scientific research and technology in order to foster sustainable honey bee populations” a perfect example of Burstein’s pragmatic idealism.

Meanwhile, they continued in their efforts to develop the means to monitor the health of bee hives and indeed to collect enough data to learn what parameters were most healthy. Not surprisingly they came up with a digital solution.  They proposed to monitor intra-hive conditions by placing sensors in the hives which could transmit data wirelessly to the beekeeper.

Soon another instance in which business opportunity coincided with mission occurred.  In their contacts nationwide with beekeepers, they learned that a secondary problem had accompanied the loss of hives.  As the shortage of hives became acute, those remaining became more valuable, and there developed a widespread business of hive theft.  More than 1700 hives were stolen in California alone during the 2016 almond season.  They were able to enhance their intra-hive technology by developing a GPS tracking system which could be forwarded directly to police.

On January 1, 2018, this trio of kids who were now full time into the bee saving business were rewarded with a grant from the National Science Foundation in the amount of $225,000 to further develop a database which can used to “create a baseline model of a healthy hive to detect anomalies” as stated in the award.  The award allowed them to hire their first full time employee: a data scientist.   The beekeeping industry welcomed the news that there was an effort underway to solve their problem.  Successful Farming magazine wrote “Ag tech start-up The Bee Corp is causing quite a buzz as it begins to monitor conditions inside commercial beehives.”

the bee corp crew

It so happens that one of the co-founders of this corporation is well known to me, as a matter of fact he is my Grandson, but you may rest assured this in no way affects my objectivity in writing this for he would be an exceptional person no matter who was his Grandad.  Simon has always been interested in business but is not lacking in altruism, or environmental concerns even ending up with a major in environmental science while working nearly full time throughout college.

So, there you have it.  Millennials working hard to provide themselves with a comfortable lifestyle while simultaneously improving the lives of others.  Where could you find a better example of “pragmatic idealism”?  Let’s hope there are many more like them, and that greed will not blind them to the second part of that phrase.

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